I went all off my plans today. I had to. Most of the students I teach are African American. Last night, for the first time, an African American was elected President of the United States.
When I was five years old my mother sat me down in front of our tiny little black and white TV. Even though I wanted to out and play, she wouldn’t let me. She told me to sit there and watch what was going on. It was important; it was historic. That’s why I still have memories of seeing Neil Armstrong bouncing around up on the moon. My mother knew history was being made and wanted me to be a witness to it.
In 1990 I was up in the middle of the night aimlessly flipping through the channels when I stopped on CNN. They were reporting live about an unprovoked attack on a country named Kuwait by the dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Even then I had a premonition of doom. This premonition was made reality a few months later as I was again watching CNN and watched the bombing of Baghdad. Listening to the three reporters in that hotel room I again knew that I was watching a history changing event.
It is so rare in our lives that we see something of truly historic importance. It is even more rare when we realize at the time it is occurring that the event is that huge and important. Last night, as I watched the election returns come in and Barack Obama make a steady march from three electoral votes to over 300 electoral votes, I again knew this was a reality changer. Our country had crossed a threshold it could never uncross. We had elected an African American to the highest office of our land.
So today I showed them the video of President-Elect Obama’s victory speech.
I talked about history and the importance of history. And I told my students to write what they thought about this event and how they felt about it. I let them know it was not going to be published. It was more personal than that. I gave them a chance to share in small groups or pairs if they wanted to. Two of my classes were noticeably quiet after that announcement.
After they had finished I gave each student an envelope. I told them to write their names and something about what was inside (Election 08, Obama Wins, etc.) and to put the letter inside the envelope. In each class several wanted to know if they were to lick the envelope. It was up to them. I finished by telling them to take it home and put it somewhere safe. That in 10 or 20 years it would be very meaningful to them. If they ever have kids or grandkids ask them about this historic day, they can pull out what they wrote today.
I thought this digression was well worth it.